R2R Alive – Denafrips Ares II Balanced R2R DAC
Denafrips is a name that will bring a smile to many music lover’s faces, especially when they have such an awesome product, but today we’re putting it to the wall, we’re going to see just how good it actually is, and if the Ares II is worth its money. The main competitors will be SW1X DAC I Special, which is also very pricey, and also R2R, the might Mytek Brooklyn DAC+, and even Aune S6 PRO. There are far more worthy competitors out there, so I decided to also add the Young MK III from M2Tech to the list, based on your requests. The price of the Ares II is about 800 USD. For the pairings part of this review, I went with HIFIMAN Jade II, Wells Milo + Rosson RAD 0, and a Feliks Euforia Tube Amplifier driving a HIFIMAN He6SE.
Denafrips is provided, served, serviced and supported by none other than Vinshine Audio! If the name doesn’t ring a bell, they are like the gurus of high-end audio from Asia, the ones who take care of the mighty Denafrips. Denafrips is a brand that’s become better known and gained more love than even Chord Audio, or Mytek, they are slowly becoming the most wanted DACs in the entire world. I’m not just saying this, I know this, because just in Romania, I know at least seven people who ordered DACs directly from Vinshine Audio, and who own Denafrips DACs. Most of them also did so after my video review, which made me happy, because I love to know that I’m helping you guys getting what you’re looking for.
It should be noted that I have absolutely no affiliation with Vinshine or Denafrips. I’d like to thank Vinshine for providing the sample for this review. This review reflects my personal experience with the Vinshine Denafrips Ares II R2R DAC. Every opinion expressed is mine and I stand by it, the purpose of this review is to help those interested in Vinshine Denafrips Ares II DAC find their next music companion.
You can find Ares II and other Denafrips DACs / AMPs at Vinshine Audio: https://www.vinshineaudio.com/product-page/denafrips-ares-r2r-dac
First things first, let’s get the packaging out of the way:
I always feel good when I see a proper package. The Ares II doesn’t come with a remote or a USB cable, but you’re better off sourcing yourself a good USB Cable if you did the effort of getting such a great DAC. The provided Power Cable should be good enough for most users, especially considering the friendly price of the Ares II. Can’t say that the remote isn’t missed, but the Ares II doesn’t have volume control, so it wouldn’t have made too much sense.
You can press a button to mute it, but since you’ll be controlling the volume from your amplifier, regardless whether it is a power amplifier or Headphone Amplifier, you won’t need a remote.
Ares II is one of the few high-end DACs that don’t look bad. I would actually say it is beautiful. It has just the perfect size for a DAC, and despite its name being colorful, it is sleek, elegant and looks awesome on my desk. It has a fair weight, and is supported by spiky feet with rubber at the tips, making it a very stable and cool-running device.
The front of the unit has all the buttons, which are mainly the input buttons, the mute button, and the on/off button. The back of the unit has all the connections, and boy oh boy do we have plenty here.
We’re looking at two optical, two coaxial and one USB inputs. Next to the power plug, there is also a fuse, so even if you get a voltage spike in your house, Ares II’s delicate circuits won’t be fried. The outputs include two XLR Balanced outputs, and two RCA single-ended outputs. All in all, Ares II feels like the best, most prepared DAC you can get for 800 USD.
I would like to start by saying that it never runs hot. In fact, it is not only cool-running, but also has a beautiful operation, simple, ergonomic, elegant. Windows need the Thesycon drivers, and it is easily recognized by both my desktop PC, and my portable laptop. It was brought to me attention that it has some delay, and after re-testing it, I noticed it. It is about a quarter of a second, and with fast music video, it can become noticeable. For music, you will be delighted to know that where DAC I Special from SW1X got around the issue with USB inputs by not including one, Denafrips includes a high-speed linear supply power for its USB board, so that there is no noise when using the USB cable, compared to the Coaxial or the Optical inputs.
All the outputs are plated with a thick gold layer, and look really professional, with the entire device having a matte finish that screams high-end without being pretentious about it.
Switching between the OS and NOS modes is easy, you just press mute, and you switch back and forth. In OS mode, you have a slow and a sharp filter, which gives you either a quick decay for sharp, or a slow decay for slow. Those basically give textures either speed or weight and nuance.
If I were to mention a few downsides to the whole build part, you should keep in mind that it doesn’t come with a USB Cable, or other cables, does not come with a remote, and it does not have volume control, it is as much of a simple DAC unit as it can be.
Of course, if you’re purchasing an R2R DAC, you’re getting it for the sonic performance. That is it. You’re surely not very interested about it doing anything else but achieving that pure sonic bliss that you’re expecting from an R2R DAC. And, with the Ares II, you’re in for it!
The overall sound is ever so slightly gentle, with the punch and impact taking a second place after the colorful dynamics, transparent presentation, and with a really gentle way of portraying details. I would call this sound not just natural, but extremely well presented for those who want naturalness. R2R, also called ladder DACs, always has this magical presentation with an extreme amount of dynamics, but without having all those edgy textures and harsh edges that your typical Delta-Sigma DACs. I mean, I also reviewed countless high-end Delta-Sigma DACs and R2R surely has a presentation that makes you go “That’s R2R” the first moment you hear it.
The bass of the Ares II is quite dynamic, having a lot of nuance and emotion to it. There’s no trace of distortion or struggle, even if you throw technical death metal, or aggressive hardcore songs with multiple bass notes being struck at the same time. Slow Jazz is slow, quick rock is quick, and metal has everything presented nicely. Especially at the bass level, though, the impact is not as hard hitting as I first expected given the dynamics & detail. This was, of course, until I engaged the NOS / OS and figured that there’s a more mellow mode, and a natural one. If the entire sound feels soft or mellow, try to switch, you’ll be surprised to notice how each of those present music.
The midrange is always refined and gentle, despite being crazy detailed. Given the R2R tech, it handles Metallica and slower rock songs just as expected. With voices that are harder to handle, like Jill Tracy, you can notice how Ares II can present a deep, yet crystalline woman voice without having any hard edges or grain. In fact, I loved the experience with Ares II so much that I put on some Panic At The Disco, and even some Brain Drill or Massakren, just to be greeted by a really musical guitar, lots of information in the background, and a really nicely layered sound. In fact, besides the dynamics, this also surprised me, the soundstage and imaging is spot-on. Songs that are made to sound wide, really do sound wide. Passages that are supposed to whisper in your ear really feel close. I’d say that Ares II is perfect for those looking for a honest / transparent DAC.
The treble is generally a touch gentle, regardless of whether you’re using he NOS or OS mode. The treble never hits hard, and it never strikes a nerve. Zero Grain, Zero Harshness. But also all the detail you’d want from a natural treble. It is an unlikely combination, but this worked equally well for metal, classical and even jazz. The treble is a really nice surprise even when you connect some brighter cans like HE6SE through a neutral headphone amplifier like the Master 19 from Audio-GD, but also with smoother and rich-sounding cans like Rosson RAD-0 through a minimalistic AMP like Wells Milo.
Since you asked me to compare the Ares II to so many other DACs, I did my best to compare it to the most requested competitors. Those include Aune S6 PRO, Mytek Brooklyn DAC+, Young MK III from M2Tech, and even SW1X DAC I Special.
Adding something like the Plixir BAC400 isn’t really necessary for the Ares II, as the power stage is handled exceptionally well. BAC400 tends to help most of the competitors though, and I wanted to mention that for most DACs, you’d want to employ some kind of power filtering, while for the Ares II you really won’t feel the need. This is also why I don’t think including a basic power cable is all that bad, Ares II just works nicely with it.
Denafrips Ares II vs SW1X DAC I Special (800 USD vs 2400 USD) – The price difference is huge, Ares II has a much better input selection, where SW1X has just Coaxial Input in the base version. The overall usage scenario is similar, but Ares II has Balanced XLR outputs, where SW1X has just Single Ended RCA outputs. In terms of sonics, SW1X DAC I Special tends to be a bit cleaner, also have a bit better dynamics and impact. Ares II shows the same R2R magic, with a grain-free presentation, effortless way to portray a stage, and a transparent presentation. SW1X is a bit better, but it clearly is not as good of a value as Ares II is.
Denafrips Ares II vs Young MK III from M2Tech (800 USD vs 1600 USD) – Young MK III is pretty grain-free, but comes through as bright when compared to Ares II which is perfectly transparent. Young MK III also has fairly hard edges sometimes, with a much wider soundstage at all times. This means that certain passages that are supposed to be intimate sound distant on the Young, where they sound exactly as intended on Ares II. There’s a certain magic about Ares II and they way it can portray a slow song slow, and a quick song quick, where Young MKIII tends to be quick more often. The impact is higher on Young MK III, where Ares II has better dynamics.
Denafrips Ares II vs Aune S6 PRO (800 USD vs 650 USD) – Aune S6 PRO is a perfect example of a one-to-one comparison, because it is closer in price to Ares II than most of the other competitors in this review. In a one-to-one battle, Ares II wins in most aspects, except for versatility, as S6PRO also has volume control, a headphone output. Ares II also has both balanced XLR otuputs, RCA outputs, and even a balanced headphone output. The sound is much much wider on S6 PRO, with more detail and apparent clarity. When switching to Ares II, one can hear a much deeper soundstage, with more layering, better depth and a much more transparent sound. Ares II sounds natural, where S6 PRO sounds really exciting, bright, open, but lacks some ulterior refinement that R2R DACs in general tend to bring.
Denafrips Ares II vs Mytek Brooklyn DAC+ (800 USD vs 2000 USD) – I really love the Brooklyn DAC+l, and it is far more versatile, having a display, or rather two of them. Also, headphone outputs, two of them, more versatility in how it can be used. At the end of the day, I was expecting it to sound better, but as a DAC it is a bit more colored, more warmth, at the sacrifice of some transparency. Ares II feels more gentle, less punchy, but also has a pretty similar detail. It is a feat that it can be as clear and transparent as a high-end DAC, and I feel less compelled to spend 2000 USD when I hear them side-by-side, although I must admit that DAC+ is indeed better in some ways.
Denafrips Ares II + Feliks Audio Euforia + HIFIMAN He6SE (800 USD + 2300 USD + 1600 USD) – Feliks Euforia is an amazing AMP, but fairly neutral, so it needs a softer DAC to avoid becoming too firm and bright, especially when paired with a brighter headphone like He6SE. Ares II shows good abilities to keep the sound transparent, wide, but also detailed and gentle. There’s no trace of grain, and it is impressive how good a neutral-neutral combo can sound when paired with a neutral, but gentle DAC like Ares II.
Denafrips Ares II + Wells Milo + Rosson RAD-0 (800 USD + 2200 USD + 2000 USD) – Milo is slightly warm, and RAD-0 is extremely warm, so it makes sense to see if Ares II can keep them under control too. I was amazed to see that its neutral tuning helps a lot with making this combo vivid, but rich in sound, without edging to darkness. The overall treble performance is extremely gentle and smooth, and the entire sound is very liquid, but don’t take this as a negative, it works well with any bands, from Escape The Fate all the way to Jazz.
Denafrips Ares II + HIFIMAN Jade II Electrostatic System (800 USD + 2500 USD) – Jade II is a complicated system that I haven’t gotten to listen enough when I first reviewed it, but thanks to a happy twist of fate, I was able to pair Ares II with it, and I was surprised by how much it helped that system become more musical, It was detailed, clear and somewhat gentle, but it was never very musical, and Ares II is just the perfect companion to help with that, giving Jade II a beautiful stage, airy treble, and a flat, but nuanced bass.
Value and Conclusion
There’s no arguing that the value of Ares II is simply exceptional. The package is nice and it comes nicely protected, but not with a lot of extras. Still, the build quality, and the kind of sound you get for your money, is simply a 10/10.
The body can cross between classy, stylish, and even edgy at times, fitting the aesthetic pleasures of pretty much anyone who gives it a look. Lack of a remote control, and lack of volume control is compensated by it having two sonic modes (OS and NOS), which gives you a natural, and a softer presentation.
If you ever had a rough day at work and needed to lay low for a while, the relaxed mode, Ares II has it. And if you just woke up, with a cigarette and an energy drink, and if you want to kick start your day with the sound of a chainsaw, you can totally blast some grindcore and paint your walls red at the best resolution with Ares II.
Before the end of this review, I want to add Ares II to Audiophile-Heaven’s Hall Of Fame thanks to its exceptional performance, price-to-performance ratio, and great support by Vinshine Audio.
At the end of this review, if you’re looking to start with R2R tech, and if you want a more gentle presentation, if you don’t like hard edges, and if you want the ultimate detail, and a precise soundstage, Ares II from Denafrips & Vinshine should be at the top of your list.
You can find Ares II and other Denafrips DACs / AMPs at Vinshine Audio: https://www.vinshineaudio.com/product-page/denafrips-ares-r2r-dac
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Full Playlist used for this review
We listened to more songs than those named in this playlist, but those are excellent for identifying a sonic signature. PRaT, Texturization, Detail, Resolution, Dynamics, Impact, and overall tonality are all revealed by those songs. We recommend trying most of the songs from this playlist, especially if you’re searching for new music!
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